DDT in Alaskan fish shown to increase risk of cancer

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Researchers at the University of Maine have found that children in Alaska who consume a lot of fish from rivers fed by the Eastern Alaska Mountain Range may be at an increased risk of cancer.

Fish - Maria Uspenskaya

Maria Uspenskaya | Shutterstock

The study, which was conducted by Kimberley Miner (University of Maine Climate Change Institute) and colleagues, has recently been published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology.

Miner and team say the elevated cancer risk is due to the accumulation of insecticides such as DDT in the meltwater.

Compared with adults, the cancer risk associated with the intake of organochlorine pollutants (OCPs) is significantly higher among children due to their size and life-time exposure.

The widespread distribution of OCPs throughout the arctic has already been documented. Some of the OCPS have been drawn in and transported in glacial ice, which, on melting, releases the pollutants into downstream reservoirs.

Despite awareness of this OCP remobilization, no risk assessment of exposure to the meltwater among nearby communities has been conducted until now.

As Alaskan glaciers continue to melt as a result of climate change, the concentration of these OCPs released into the water may continue to rise far above the current level, says Miner, who is also a research fellow with the Center for Climate and Security and a physical scientist at the Army Geospatial Research Laboratory in Virginia.

"This secondary impact of climate change will be felt most strongly by children, and needs to be addressed in a comprehensive way," she warns.

For the study, the team used a risk assessment model for glacial watersheds based on US Environmental Protection Agency methodology. The model was applied to the glaciated Jarvis Creek watershed of interior Alaska.

The team found that even when the concentration of OCPs in glacial meltwater is low, a high consumption of fish among nearby communities increases the risk of cancer above acceptable limits.

Miner and colleagues say that although this model is applicable to just the one watershed, the results suggest that further investigation of an increasing OCP signal in glacial meltwater and fish throughout the North American Arctic is warranted.

Sally Robertson

Written by

Sally Robertson

Sally first developed an interest in medical communications when she took on the role of Journal Development Editor for BioMed Central (BMC), after having graduated with a degree in biomedical science from Greenwich University.

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